Have you ever wondered how to protect yourself from ticks while hiking, but aren’t quite sure which advice you should follow?
Don’t let the fear of ticks keep you from enjoying the outdoors!
We’ve compiled all of the best tips to keep you safe from these annoying little bloodsuckers on your next hiking adventure.
Ticks are eight-legged bugs that feed on their hosts by burrowing their head into the skin and sucking on their blood.
They come in two different forms, hard ticks and soft ticks, each with their own unique mouth structures.
Ticks prefer warm, humid weather, but they can be found all over the world. They live in grassy, wooded areas and can often be found under a pile of leaves or crawling on a bush.
They can survive in cooler climates if there are enough hosts available and the humidity is high enough.
Ticks have incredible sensory abilities and they use something called Haller’s organs on their front legs to detect a warm-blooded host. Once the organs know that a host is nearby, they prepare to grab onto any body part they can, usually the legs since they’re closest to the ground.
When a tick is on you, it will either start burrowing into your skin right away, or it will crawl up your body until it finds an area where the skin is thinner, like the underarm or ear.
Despite the common misconception that ticks can jump, they are actually only able to crawl.
You can find ticks in just about any terrain, as long as there is a large population of hosts nearby and the weather conditions are desirable.
Ticks do prefer higher elevations in grassy or wooded areas, but they can also be found in densely-populated areas like beaches, parks, and playgrounds.
While ticks thrive in humidity, they can survive in colder temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they can be found year-round in many places.
They are most active in the spring and summer when ticks emerge from their nymph stage and begin seeking out warm-blooded hosts.
Ticks come in 9 different varieties, three of which are well-known for biting humans. The most common ticks are:
The first three varieties, Blacklegged, Lone Star, and Dog, are the ones you are most likely to find hiding in the woods when you go hiking.
Since ticks feed on the blood of their hosts when they bite, they can easily spread diseases as their mouthparts come into contact with one creature’s blood and then transfer bugs to the next creature they bite… which could be you!
Ticks can cause many different illnesses and diseases, but they are most known for transmitting Lyme Disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can cause mild symptoms like a headache, bullseye rash, fever, and tiredness.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other areas of the body, like the organs and joints, and cause severe symptoms like:
Ticks can also cause other illnesses, like the Powassan virus, Heartland virus, Bourbon virus, Southern tick-associated rash illness, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Colorado tick fever virus.
They are, put simply, disgusting little creatures!
Protecting yourself from tick bites is the best way to prevent tick-borne illnesses.
There are several things you can do to protect yourself from these bugs when you’re out hiking.
Since ticks mainly live in grassy, wooded areas, avoiding these as much as possible is the first step in preventing tick bites. You can also:
It’s important to remove a tick as quickly as possible and to remove it completely. Follow these steps, recommended by the CDC, to remove a tick safely and effectively.
1. Using tweezers, grip as close to the base of the tick as possible
2. Pull upward firmly and evenly, taking care not to leave any of the tick’s head or mouthparts behind
3. If the head remains in the skin, try using the tweezers to remove it. If it still won’t budge, clean the area thoroughly and allow the head to fall out on its own
4. Upon removal, clean and disinfect the area with hot, soapy water and rubbing alcohol
5. Dispose of the tick properly by wrapping it in a tightly-sealed bag or container and throwing it in the garbage, or flushing it down the toilet
You may be on a multi-day hike when you collect your first tick, so you need to be prepared to deal with them on the trail. These are the items you should carry in your hiking backpack to manage tick bites as you go:
After you’ve removed a tick, you’ll want to watch the area for several days for signs of infection or a bullseye rash, which can be indicative of Lyme disease.
You should also contact a doctor if you develop any other symptoms of a tick-borne illness, including:
Treatment may include antibiotics and supportive care for the fever and body aches. If treated early enough, most people will have a full recovery from tick-borne illnesses.
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from ticks while hiking. There are also steps you can take to heal if you are bitten by a tick.
Follow these tips for a successful hiking trip:
Now that you know all about ticks and the illnesses they can cause, go enjoy your next hiking adventure without fear of running into these pesky little parasites.